Jan 23 2012 12:00pm

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Waste Lands, “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Sections 1-9

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water.

—From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wastelands”

Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.

We last left Jake snuggling up with the key from the vacant lot, and thinking, “Tell him to grab the key. The key makes the voices go.”

The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 1

Back with Ro and the gang again. Eddie awakens hearing the same message as Jake, about the key. Ro, Eddie and Susannah have been traveling southeast along the Beam and have stopped for the night. Eddie understands what the dream is telling him. He pulls out the key he’s been carving from the piece of ash, even though it isn’t finished, and takes it to Roland. As soon as Roland takes the key, he is overcome with emotion because the voices have disappeared.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is really losing his grip. He doesn’t notice anyone’s coming until Eddie’s about four steps behind his unprotected back. Eddie notes that Roland was more alert even when they were on the beach and Ro was half dead with infection. Roland thinks he’s getting ready to die, and all he hopes for at the end is silence.

Both Roland and Susannah are interested in seeing what Eddie’s been working on, even though Eddie’s uncomfortable showing it. “By the gods, Eddie, it’s beautiful!” Roland says. Eddie tells Roland to take the key, but he doesn’t want to tell Roland it was “Roland’s boy” who told him to do it—even though he realizes it’s Jake.

Eddie’s hearing voices of his own—Henry’s, still making fun of his wood-carving. Henry is the voice of Eddie’s own self-doubts.

Roland’s reaction as he takes the key and the voices subside is beautiful. “He looked back at them, and Eddie saw something he had never expected to see in his life—not even if that life stretched over a thousand years. Roland of Gilead was weeping. Awww….


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 2

Roland slept “soundlessly and dreamlessly” for the first time in months, clutching the key in his hand.

What Constant Reader Learns: Love how this mimics the position Jake is sleeping in as well.


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 3

“In another world, but beneath the shadow of the same ka-tet,” Jake dreams he’s walking through a forest. He finds a path, and a stone marker whose letters are so eroded he can’t read them unless he closes his eyes and traces them with his finger. They read: TRAVELLER, BEYOND LIES MID-WORLD.  “Mid-World,” he thinks in his dream. “Of course. St. Louis and Topeka and Oz and the World’s Fair and Charlie the Choo-Choo.”

Jake continues to talk, and finds a clearing covered in old, cracked asphalt and a basketball court. A boy stands at the end of the court, shooting baskets through a net attached to something that looks like an old subway kiosk painted yellow and black. From it, Jake can hear the steady rumble of machinery. “Don’t step on the robots,” the boy tells him, and he looks down at the mechanical robots that Ro and Eddie had come across earlier. The boy’s wearing a T-shirt that reads “Never a Dull Moment in Mid-World.”

When Jake asks where they are, the boy tells him it’s the Portal of the Bear…also Brooklyn. The boy says he’s there to guide Jake: “I’ll show you what you need to see, but you have to be careful because I won’t know you. And strangers make Henry nervous.” Then the boy starts to fade, telling Jake to take the subway to Co-Op City and be there about 3 in the afternoon. The last thing the boy tells him is that “The answer is a river.”

What Constant Reader Learns: So in his dream, Jake is visiting the forest where Roland and his merry band are traveling, and the boy who’s going to be Jake’s guide is Eddie. A younger version of Eddie? They seem to be linked through their dreams, which is pretty cool.

Jake is upset at the sound of the machinery at the bear portal, and knows it’s somehow tied to the rose.

Not being familiar with the NYC area, I looked up Co-Op City, and found it’s a section of the Bronx and is one of the largest co-op housing developments in the world, with more than 15,000 units. No idea what its relevance is to our story, though.


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 4

Jake awakens thinking about Aaron Deepneau (deep-know!) from the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind, and knows the answer to the riddle he’d asked him: a river. But he also remembers Aaron saying that was only half the answer. Jake looks at his clock, and it’s six-twenty a.m. He needs to get moving.

In the dream, Jake had fallen in the forest and scraped his knees. He’s not surprised to see, when he climbs out of bed, that he has fresh scrapes on his knees.

What Constant Reader Learns: Jake doesn’t quite know where he’s going, only that he probably won’t be back: “There would be no school for him today; Jake thought that maybe, as far as he was concerned, school had been cancelled forever.”


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 5

Jake digs in his closet and pulls out his old “packsack” he’d worn to grammar school—he’d abandoned it when he enrolled in Piper because Piper kids were too cool to carry backpacks. Into it, he stuffs some clothing, the riddle book, and Charlie the Choo-Choo. He looks around to see what else he needs, and then he knows.

What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Jake is convinced enough he isn’t coming back that he’s packing clothes. And what else is it he needs?


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 6

Now, Jake is in his dad’s study, which “smells of cigarettes and ambition.” It looks like an office belonging to the head of network programming, with a wall of TV monitors showing the rival networks. Jake unlocks the desk and pulls out his father’s .44 Ruger. He checks the clip to make sure it’s fully loaded, and puts gun and clip into his pack. He also takes a box of .44 slugs. As he’s getting ready to leave, he sees his dad’s Ray-Ban sunglasses and some stationery. He takes the stationery and struggles for a few minutes trying to think of what to say in a note. He feels pretty sure he’s never coming back, and he wants his parents to miss him even though he isn’t sure he’ll miss them. Finally, he writes: “Please take care of yourselves. Love, J.”

As he leaves the building, he turns left and begins moving southeast, “along the path of the Beam, resuming his own interrupted quest for the Dark Tower.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Jake’s nervous being in his dad’s study—he knows Elmer Chambers will be angry if he comes in (light sleeper and early riser that he is) and finds his son rifling through his desk. Nice tension through this scene as boards creak in the apartment and increase Jake’s anxiety.

As soon as he leaves the building, Jake’s mood lifts and he gets excited. “There was a highway ahead—a hidden highway leading deep into some unknown land. ..If I stand, if I can be true, I’ll see the rose…and I’ll see him, too.”


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 7

Back with our trio, and two days later, they come across an overgrown road, with wide-enough wheel ruts that Susannah’s able to get back into her wheelchair (and Eddie, who’s having to haul the wheelchair around while Ro carries Susannah, has really come to hate the chair). Roland’s wearing the key around his neck on a piece of rawhide.

Roland tells them the path was once a coach-road, and probably a big one to have survived so long—maybe even ”the Great Road."

The three stop for lunch—dried meat wrapped in olive-colored leaves that taste a little like spinach. Eddie calls them “gunslinger burritos.”

Roland gives the key back to Eddie—he wants him to finish the carving. Eddie starts to make excuses, saying he thought Roland needed it all the time, but with a single look, Roland lets him know that isn’t true. Eddie admits he’s afraid to try and finish it because he knows it’s important somehow, and he’s afraid he’ll screw it up. He finally agrees to try—he knows it has to be done.

As long as they’re discussing Eddie’s insecurities, Susannah also asks about his dreams. Eddie’s reluctant to talk about them, but finally does. He remembers an episode from his childhood, where he was shooting hoops at the old Markey Avenue playground and wanting Henry to take him to an abandoned, haunted house called The Mansion—he’d thought about it when they came across the bear portal machine. Then he remembers a kid coming up to talk to him. Roland asks if the boy was really there on the day Henry and Eddie were shooting hopes or if he’s only in the dream, and Eddie thinks the kid was really there—a kid carrying a backpack, with sunglasses too big for his face.

“Who was this person?” Roland asks, and finally Eddie tells him it was Jake. “He’s sharing my dreams, and I’m sharing his,” he says. “The kid is trying to come back here. And if the key isn’t done when he makes his move—or if it’s done wrong—he’s probably going to die.”

What Constant Reader Learns: An animal crawls out of the forest and stares at them. Roland calls it a billy-bumbler, which sounds like a character out of Lord of the Rings, and it’s described as a cross between a badger and a raccoon, with a closely coiled tail and gold-rimmed eyes. We’re getting such a detailed description of this animal that I assume the billy-bumbler is not a one-off mention and we’ll see one again. But for now, this one looks at them briefly, then wanders back into the woods. And apparently they taste worse than dog, so they aren’t going to be a food supply.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen the depth of Eddie’s self-doubt and poor self-esteem. Henry really did a number on him, apparently encouraged by their mom. Roland’s still got some work to do with him.

Love that Eddie’s aware he and Jake are sharing dreams, only he knows something Jake doesn’t. Roland says maybe Jake has a key of his own. “Is that possible?” Eddie replies: “Yeah, I think it is, but it isn’t enough. And I don’t think he knows that.”

Uh-oh. Trouble for Jake incoming.


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 8

Roland, Eddie, and Susannah set off again, traveling along the road. Eddie looks back at one point and sees their former campsite in the distance and marvels at how far they’ve come. Roland spots something off to the side, and they all go to look—it’s a tall gray stone covered in vines. Roland cuts away the vines and it reads (surprise) TRAVELLER, BEYOND LIES MID-WORLD.

What Constant Reader Learns: Uh, well, Mid-World signs used British spellings since “traveler” has one “L” in American English. And the parallel paths with Jake continue.


The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 9

Roland says the sign means that they’re “nearing the end of this first stage.” He thinks the woods will end soon and he “expects a great change.”

Eddie (thank you) asks what Mid-World is. “One of the large kingdoms that dominated the earth in the times before these,” Roland says. “A kingdom of hope and knowledge and light—the sort of things we were trying to hold onto in my land before the darkness overtook us.”

According to legend, a great city—“perhaps as great as your city of New York”—lay at the edge of Mid-World, which Roland says will be in ruins now, if it’s there at all. “But there may be people…or monsters…or both.”

What Constant Reader Learns: So, we’re nearing the end of the first stage, and, like Jake, I find myself fearfully and eagerly anticipating what lies ahead. Even monsters. We need a good monster.

That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we tackle the beginning of “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Sections 10-20.

1. suckhole
Just a random tidbit, the geography in the Dark Tower's NYC often has nothing to do with the real NYC beyond name. For example I'm pretty sure the co-op city in the book is in Brooklyn, hence Eddie's 'hood--even though it's in the Bronx in real life.

I've read these books several time and King is very liberal with geography...which was totally okay by me. But it spun my head when trying to align with real life NYC geography.
2. trench
Hey look at that a Billy-Bumbler.

This probably my favorite section of this book, perhaps the entire series. The tension that builds as the Jake and the Ka-tet try to find each other is great. Personaly for me there is a lot of nostalgia built up in this book particularly and section.

When I first began the series only the first 3 were out, and these were the first Stephen King books I had read. I was on the fence for the most part, through the first 2 books (although on rereads I like Drawing more) but the idea that Jake would be back together with Roland made this section unbelievably tense for me. I really had been hoping for it ever since Jake fell, and the resolution of it all was the first and worst time Stephen King ever got into my head, and seriously freaked me out. I mean I still get the willies thinking about it.
3. StrongDreams
No special reason for asking, but do you prefer your monsters to be of the human or non-human variety?
Suzanne Johnson
4. SuzanneJohnson
@Trench...Oh man, and he's dragging the tension out big-time. I read a little ahead to do the posts and I still have no idea what's going to happen! I think I'm enjoying this book most so far as well, although I really did like the Eddie section of Drawing.

@StrongDreams...I usually find the human monsters scarier (the IT clown notwithstanding), but Stephen King does really good non-human monsters, so I'm anxious to see what's down the road.
5. Lsana
The part of this section that I found the creepiest was Eddie's comment about Jake's key: "It's not enough. And I don't think he knows that." Those lines kept ringing in my head throughout this section and the next: Jake is walking into a trap, he has no clue about it, his friends know, but they are in another universe and can't warn him...
Suzanne Johnson
6. SuzanneJohnson
@Lsana...Yes that is one of those get-chills-when-you-read it lines. The subtle hints of horrific things to come are just piling up...and Jake's headed right for it.
Josh Storey
7. Soless
I'd almost given up on this series the first time through. I loved Book 1, but grew tired of Book 2 (I was in middle school, give me a break). But The Waste Lands? No contest.

I finished the whole thing in the span of three days. Quite a feat, considering I read at a snail's pace and a normal King book was at least a month-long undertaking for me. It continues to be my favorite of the series, and looking back through these read throughs makes me realize how much of an influence it's had on my tastes.

I still remember sitting curled up in my parent's recliner, pifler copy of the book from my mother's collection clutched in my 7th grade hands, turning page after page after page and then hey, it's Sunday already. Where'd the weekend go?
LaShawn Capito
8. QueenC
I was glad for a decription of Mid-World. I'm still a little confused about the difference between that and End-world. Isn't there also an In-World?
Suzanne Johnson
9. SuzanneJohnson
@QueenC...Somebody else is gonna have to answer that one. I'm more lost than Jake right now. Entertained, but lost :-)
10. Kadere
@8 @9- Roland lives in a world that he refers to as "Mid-World" when generally refering to his entire world. Arthur Eld called it "All-World-that-was" which is more commonly known as "All-World."

All-World is divided into 3 sections: In-World, Mid-World, and End-World.

In-World is the geographical center of All-World. Before the world "moved on", In-World was the center of civilization. The Barony of New Canaan and its capital Gilead, were located here.

Mid-World starts in the forest Roland and co have just entered. It contains places we're about to go through including The Wastlands.

End-World is the inner most land where the Dark Tower itself lies.

So if you think of the Dark Tower as being the center of the wheel, an inner circle spanning say 100 miles around it is End World, a circle 200 miles beyond that boarder contains Mid-World, and then outside of that for x-miles is In-World.

Roland and company have found one of the beams that runs from In-World all the way through Mid-World, to the Dark Tower in the center of End-World, and that's the path they use to attempt to reach there. Through Mid-World, and into End-World.

That's about as much as I can say without spoilers, there are maps of the whole thing you can find.
Katie McNeal
11. Katiya
Good catch on the Co-Op City location! You'll notice Eddie sent Jake to his home, in Brooklyn, and has repeatedly referred to it as Co-Op City. The discrepancy will come into play later, so its kind of significant.
12. CallahanO'TheRoads
(Now we're getting down to it, as the Man in Black says in The Gunslinger.)
I see these words as the opening to The Dark Tower Movie Trailer, with Hey Jude playing in the back ground. Then the iconic line that has drawn all of us in: "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
You're coming up to the meaty part of this book, now! The story is working up a good head of steam. I think, but am not 100% certain, that Out-World is also a place in the geography of this land, where Garlan and Delain would be. I'm willing to be corrected on this..
Khef, Ka, and Ka-Tet!
13. Derek J. Goodman
I think the most entertaining part of next week's read will be watching Suzanne try to find a place to stop.
14. Jenny C.
Henry and Eddie were shooting hopes
Is that a Roland-ism or your Freudian slip, Suzanne? It's lovely either way. . .

Now a word about the metaphysical geographies. It's said the Tower is at the center of all the worlds, or even is their center, but of course even more so in all-world or whatever we're calling Roland's homeworld which itself is the most centrally placed world, where you can approach the tower physically. But to do that you travel away from the central in-world, past the outer edge of the world. I wonder if a proper map of this journey would be shaped like a Klein bottle.

And maybe it's a good thing so many of the beams are lost, or we'd be lost trying to wrap our heads around the concept of several mutually exclusive directions that all lead to the tower.
Suzanne Johnson
15. SuzanneJohnson
@JennyC...That was totally a typo. I'm just not that clever--LOL.

@Derek...I upload my post a week ahead, so I stopped when I hit 2,500 words and then had to force myself to stop; otherwise, I'd crash the servers! I left myself hanging on a big old cliff.

@Callahan...That sounds like a great beginning to the movie...It'll be interestingt to see how the real ones get structured. Last I heard, they were back on, although I don't know a timetable.
Michael Green
16. greenazoth
The Waste-Lands is, for me, the most "epic fantasy" of the Dark Tower books, and I've always taken Mid-World as a pleasing shout out to Middle Earth.
Jack Flynn
17. JackofMidworld
Suzanne, you left all of us hanging on a big old cliff! I don't know what's worse - the suspense of reading for the first time & not knowing what's going to happen, or the suspense of knowing what's going to happen and waiting for you to get to it!
18. Lsana

I think it's a little more complex than that. And by "complex" I mean "#$@! up."

"Mid-world" is used to refer to a particular kingdom in Roland's world. It's sometimes used to refer to Roland's world in general. It's also sometimes used to refer to anything in Roland's world that's not part of the Inner Baronies where Roland's home was or part of End-world where the Dark Tower is. For example, the Barony of Mejis, which we'll see in the next book, is referred to as being in Mid-world, despite the fact that I'm pretty sure it's nowhere near this forest or anything we'll see for the rest of the book.

Basically, do not try to analyze the geography in these books. It won't make sense. You can blame it on King not having a series bible and writing these books over the course of 30 years, or you can blame it on the fact that geography, like time, is just...well, "complex" in Roland's world. Either way, don't think, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Suzanne Johnson
19. SuzanneJohnson
@Jack...Ha...probably for you because I don't know what's coming, although I had to force myself to stop last time. I could devour the rest of the book in one sitting, so it's torturous.

@Lsana...That's been my philosophy since the first book blew my whole sense of time and space apart. I just accept whatever's there. I might ruminate on it a few minutes but I figure the serious ruminating will have to come much, much later.
Steven Halter
20. stevenhalter
I get a very sharp sense that everything is rushing towards something. I don't get a very sharp sense of what that thing is. Certainly it will be something involving the keys and it seems like Jake and Roland&Co. are heading to meet up. It also seems like things could go terribly wrong quite easily.
Since King has already killed Jake off twice, I'm hoping that "the third time is the charm" doesn't fit here. It's all nicely ambiguos at this point.
LaShawn Capito
21. QueenC
@Kadere & Lsana- thanks for the descriptions. I love these books (I'm even a fan of the ending), but I always have a hard time picturing the geography. I think I'm going to go with Lsana's reasoning on the whole thing :-)
22. Kadere
Well you can listen to Lsana all you want, but she's wrong. The Barony of Mejis is in the In-World, west of New Canaan and East of the Barony of Tepachi, and South of the desert while North of Clean Sea. Roland travels into the desert (thus the first line of Gunslinger). As I already stated Roland refers to the ENTIRE WORLD as Mid-World, but technically as the books go on the entire world is actually known as All-World. Mid-world is a particular part between In-World and End-World. In-World includes the Inner Barony's (such as Mejis and New Canaan), but once you cross a certain point you enter Mid-World. Then after you cross into the Thunderclap you enter End-World. You can check with the books themselves as they go on, Stephen King, The Dark Tower Concordance (which goes into EXTREME detail about this whole thing), forums, or even the dark tower wikia, but that's how the geography works. Roland thinks of everything being Mid-World, but his "Mid-World" has a Mid-World of it's own. "There are more worlds then these."
Suzanne Johnson
23. SuzanneJohnson
@Kadere...I have the Concordance but won't let myself open it until the read is done for fear I'll see something I shouldn't. But I can visualize a "map" of the worlds as you lay it out.
24. StrongDreams
I think it's only fair to note that Robin Furth only started to work on the Concordance after book 4, during King's long break from Roland's world. Various mistakes of geography up to that point are King's own, and the revisions to Gunslinger in which he talks about the geography being messed up are a later (and fairly blatant, to me) retcon.

My view of Roland's geography was formed without benefit of the Concordances, and starts with the premise that Roland's world is an later version of ours -- which it clearly is in the original Gunslinger.

In Gunslinger, Roland is traveling west, across the Mojave (Mohaine) Desert, crosses the mountains, and ends up on the Pacific coast. He heads north up the coast, eventually ending up in the Pacific Northwest. The path of the beam heads Southeast, and our happy band eventually ends up in Kansas. Meijis (book 4) is Southern Texas or Northern Mexico, and the clean sea is the Gulf of Mexico. King never specifies where Gilead is in relation to this.

I believe that Meijis is part of In-World, as Meijis nominally owes fealty to Gilead, and the inhabitants there refer to Roland & Co as being from "the Inner Baronies." Mid-World is "one of the great kingdoms" according to Wastelands, not the only kingdom.

I think a lot changed as a result of King's accident, his long break, his hiring of Robin Furth to keep things straight, and the writing of the concordances. If the map now says something different, that may be a result of King trying to make sense of something that he forgot, or to expand the storytelling possibilities. The town of book 5 lies near an ocean whose coastline is an "arc" with many more towns scattered to the north and south, which doesn't really have any geographic correspondence to North America (and no explanation of how they got there if they started in Kansas at the end of book 4), so maybe King ditched the original geography of the series. But it's pretty clear from the original Gunslinger and other books through 4 that Roland's world is a decayed or alternate North America.
Chris Maurer
25. grayfox
I think its said somewhere in the concordance not to put too much effort into mapping out the path roland takes in his adventures. The world has, afterall, moved on...time and space along with it. That's one big advantage of following the beam because that, at least, is static (or is it?) .

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